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Chapter XII.

Mr Stubble's rustic ideas of the fine arts.—Ben Goldstone's liberal present of a carriage and pair.—Family debate on getting a livery servant.

FOR several days Mr Stubble's toe was very troublesome, and constantly reminded him of his petulance in kicking the piano-stool out of its place; he was conscious, too, that he got no more sympathy from his family than he deserved, and he was often annoyed with suspicions that they were silently laughing at his limping efforts to walk like a sound man. At their occasional question, “How is your toe, father?” he looked as vexed as if the inquirer were treading on it, and would tartly reply, “My toe is all right; so doan't 'ee bother about it. Take care of yer own toes.”

One afternoon he hobbled into the dining-room to take his customary “forty winks” on the sofa, when he heard his wife and daughter debating over the possibility of repairing the three Graces, which had been seriously fractured in their lower limbs by father's impetuous kick.

“I think if we get a little bit of what-you-may-call-it, Mag, we might stick these legs together, so that they would stand up again straight enough, so long as nobody meddled with 'em.”

“Oh, ma, we could never mend that middle Grace's knee with putty powder or diamond cement; and even if we could, it would look so shabby to have patched-up ornaments in the drawing-room. We had better have a new set at once.”

“Ugh! new set, indeed! I tell'ee what it is, Mag, thee be'st goin' ahead a plaguey deal too fast, and I be goin' to stop yer gallop,” said Mr Stubble, with warmth. “If thee brings any more of them bare-backed images into my house, blamed if I doan't kick 'em all into the street, if I crack all my toes over it.”

“They are all the fashion now, papa, and every genteel house has got some.”

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“Fashion be blowed, gal! I don't see the good of spending money that us can't afford, in getting things as are no use to us at all. There be's scores of jimcracks in the house now that us doan't want, any more than an old sow wants a wig. If us had heaps of money, and could spend it honestly, I wouldn't say aught against encouraging the fine arts, as ye call 'em; though, for my part, I can't see anything superfine in standing a great big stone fellow bolt-upright in the hall.”

“Why, pa, that is a most beautiful statue; and the upholsterer said it belonged to the late Judge Burton.”

“Well, I suppose I be no judge; but I remember when I was a boy, old Letcham of Exeter was put in the pillory for showing pictures in his shop window only half as bare as that image.”

“It is the statue of Apollo, papa,” explained Maggie.

“I don't care what you call him, Mag; he looks like an impudent scamp, and for two pins I'd pitch 'en out in the road.”

“Oh, Stubble, I never did hear any one go on in such a way as you do!” said Peggy. “It was Benjamin who bought the image. I did not want it, and I am quite willing for it to be taken away again if you don't like it.”

“I bean't going to sit still and be ruined for the sake of all the fine arts in the world. That is all I've got to say,” replied Mr Stubble.

“It only cost five guineas, Joe; so it is not worth making a stir about.”

“Well, Peggy, five guineas would buy a cow.”

“Pooh! what could we do with a cow? I am sure there are cows enough in the next yard; the smell is disgusting.”

“Your nose is getting very particular now, Peggy. I have seen the time when it worn't so over-nice.”

“Come, come, Joe! don't be cross. We won't buy any more fine arts,” said Peggy, in a soothing tone. “But we must have some cards, you know.”

“Cards, eh! What next will 'ee want, Peg? Bang'd if I'll have any gambling in my house neither; so that's all about it.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Maggie. “We don't want cards to gamble with, father.”

“Tut! don't 'ee tell me that, lass. I know a pretty deal more about them things than thee dost. I recollect one

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Sunday, afore I was out of my time, Bill Tossey, the baker's boy, coaxed me to play a hand at ‘beat my neighbour,’ up in his master's hay-loft; and almost afore I could say knife, Bill won every button I'd a got on my best corduroy jacket, and when I went home at tea-time I got a real welting from measter for cutting my buttons off. Thee doan't catch me playing at cards again, I'll bet a wager, nor I won't let thee do't neither while I have a hand over thee.”

“Hark 'ee, Joe!” said Peggy. “We don't want any cards of that sort at all; them's the devil's books, as mother used to say. We want visiting cards—small, little bits of shiny pasteboard, with our names printed on 'em—Mr Joseph Stubble, and Mrs Joseph Stubble, and Miss Stubble: don't you see now?”

“What's the good of them things, Peggy?”

“Well, not much good perhaps; but it is fashionable to have 'em, you know, Joe. Folks will be calling on us directly, and we must return their calls, of course; and how foolish we should look without our card-cases!”

“Pooh! Card-cases won't make any odds to our looks 'cept us hang 'em to our ears or our noses. At any rate, have 'em if thee likes; I don't care a farden so long as thee doan't gamble with 'em.”

At that moment, Maggie, who was looking through the window, exclaimed with interesting vehemence, “O mamma, mamma, here is Benjamin and Bob in such a love of a carriage!” In another minute Goldstone was inside the room explaining that “he had brought a trap to give them all a drive round the Domain, for he thought they wanted a sniff of fresh air, especially daddy, with his game toe.”

Mrs Stubble and Maggie were delighted at the idea of the thing, but it took some persuasion to induce Mr Stubble to go for a drive. Eventually, however, they all put on their smartest attire and got into the carriage. Bob sat on the box with Ben, who took the reins and whip with a nonchalant air, which seemed to imply that driving a pair of horses was mere child'splay to a man who had often driven four-in-hand. A group of women stood at the door of the green-grocery opposite and audibly commented on the new tenants of the old house, especially noticing the flowers in Maggie's blush-coloured bonnet, and Mrs Stubble's grand parasol. Off went the carriage, and immediately a mob of dirty boys climbed up on the after-springs, while other little urchins, who could not climb

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up, shouted to Ben, “Whip behind, master!” which envious request Ben did not deign to notice, lest they should be only trying to make a fool of him. Biddy Flynn watched the vehicle round the corner, then went in-doors and laughed and grumbled alternately, until the new house-maid, who had come fresh that morning, began to contemplate going away again that evening, being nervously impressed with the idea that her fellow-servant was crazy.

Never before had Mrs Stubble felt so proudly elated, and never had Maggie felt her young heart more suffused with pleasurable emotions of all sorts. Bob, too, was in his glory and his best clothes, and wanted nothing to complete his happiness but to have the reins and whip in his hands. Nobody would have judged that it was their first ride in a private carriage, for they tried their utmost to look as if they had been used to it all their days. Joe was the only one of the party about whose enjoyment there could have been any doubt; but his uneasiness perhaps escaped general notice, for it is common enough to see old gentlemen riding in soft coaches, and looking far less satisfied with their lot than a sweep's boy on a donkey with a soot-bag for a saddle.

I have before stated that Maggie and her brother were a handsome pair, and they were both very much like their mother. Their stylish dress of course set off their natural charms to the greatest advantage. Even Joe was a smart-looking old man when seated in a carriage with his hat on his head and his hands out of sight; in other positions he showed to less advantage, for he could seldom be prevailed upon to wear gloves, and he had an unchangeable fashion of combing his hair slantingly over his forehead in Tim Bobbin's style. It is no wonder, then, Goldstone felt conscious that, on the whole, his turn-out was uncommmonly attractive.

It was a fine afternoon, and many persons were taking their airing in the Domain. There were dozens of private vehicles, differing in pretensions, from the old-fashioned gig or modern dog-cart to the spider-like buggy, the dashing brougham, or the more lordly landau of some of the Darling Point grandees. Hired cabriolets were there, too, some of them smart enough to have passed for private concerns, if it were not for the odious law-prescribed number on their panels, and an unmistakably cabby look about the horses and their harness. There was also a sprinkling of patent safeties, shiny as new boots, with their drivers rocking to and fro in their precarious nooks

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behind, and flicking their horses into paces dangerous to pedestrians at certain sharp corners, or in parts where the dividing lines between the footpaths and the carriage-way were not distinguishable.

Many pedestrians were to be seen there also, some of them, perhaps, considering that, if every one had his due, they themselves would often be riding instead of walking. Some persons are troubled with reflections of that sort occasionally; though it would be more conducive to their comfort, if, instead of fretting because they can't afford to ride, they would congratulate themselves on their power to walk abroad, while so many poor mortals are confined within the walls of a sick-room. And, after all, if they could only have thought so, those persons on foot had most enjoyment, inasmuch as they were free from dread of contusions or fractures from bolting horses; besides, they had more leisure to inhale the balmy air from buds and blossoms, and could more appreciate a rest on a rustic seat under a spreading tree, or a cooler retreat still beneath an overhanging rock, from whence they might watch the tiny waves, and meditate, if they would, on their own ruffled course over the ocean of life, and look joyfully onward and upward to their haven of rest, where all men will be equal.

But the majority of pedestrians who were abroad that day had not fretful views of life and its diversified gifts, as witnessed the gladsome looks of the nurse-maids in charge of little tribes of infantile Australians, or the jaunty airs of the soldiers who were flirting with the said maids, and doubtless trying to persuade them that life in the barracks was all glory and nothing else. The portly blind man, too, who felt his way along with a stick, looked pleased, for though he could not see the sun, he could feel its genial influence, and perhaps he was thankful for the blessing of strong limbs, and that he was not doomed to a life of suffering and confinement, like his poor paralytic neighbour. Anotherman with a stick, who may be seen every day in the Domain, did not look so happy as the blind man, for he was constantly seeing something to annoy him in the course of his walks of duty; and I daresay a stroll through the dusty city would have been an agreeable change for him. By the way, there is scarcely a public functionary in the land with whom I more strongly sympathise than with that same man with the stick, whom the vulgar boys call “Paddy the Ranger.” His life must be an unmitigated worry in seasons when locusts are plentiful, for then hordes of street arabs infest the Domain at

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all points, and climb the trees in quest of the chirping insects. No farmer in corn season is more troubled with cockatoos than the Domain-ranger is with the boys of Sydney. Mischievous young turks some of those boys are, and between them and the ranger there is perpetual warfare. Occasionally he has the satisfaction of cuffing one of his young foes, but not very often, for he must needs catch his foe first, and the ranger cannot run so fast as he could do forty years ago, of which fact the boys are quite as conscious as Paddy is himself.

Goldstone entered the Domain at the Macquarie Street gateway, and drove down the steep decline at a dashing pace past the cricket-ground, where the Sydney eleven were practising for a grand match with the Melbourne eleven. Onward he drove up the rise beyond, and down the steep decline, and along the red road skirting the rocky shores of Wooloomooloo Bay, past the public and private baths, and finally he pulled up at the end of that picturesque peninsula so well known as “Lady Macquarie's Point.” Most of my Australian readers are doubtless familiar with that locality, and any attempt to describe its peculiar atttractions would but show them the meagreness of my descriptive powers; while to persons afar off, my best efforts would fail to convey more than a faint conception of the varied features which combine to make one of the most pleasing landscapes that human eyes have ever beheld. The Domain is one of the most frequented public reserves, or recreation-grounds, in the vicinity of Sydney. It is not for the “upper ten” exclusively, for its level roadway is as free for the spring-cart of the humble tradesman, or the butcher-boy's bob-tailed cob, as for the carriage or the prancing well-bred hack of the aristocrat, without toll or any other tax whatever. The “Government Domain,” and the adjacent Botanical Gardens, are assuredly boons to the citizens of Sydney, which it would be hard to over-estimate.

There were many carriages drawn up near to the masked battery at the point, some of the occupants of which bowed respectfully to Goldstone, to the increased joy of Mrs Stubble and Maggie, who were proud indeed to see that Benjamin had so many carriage friends. The Sydney yacht fleet were manœuvring under the command of their commodore. The sailors in the steam frigate lying in Farm Cove were exercising on the yards. A fine clipper ship from London was being towed up to her anchorage. Dozens of smart little sailing boats were gliding to and fro, and some of the racing gigs

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from the Australian Subscription Boat Club were out, manned by their spirited amateur crews.

Goldstone's party stayed some time gazing at the attractive scene, and expressing their gladsome emotions in short interjaculatory sentences, the most noticeable of which were—“Did you ever?” and “Deary, deary me!” They then returned homeward by way of the eastern gateway, and along College Street, turning into Park Street, and finally into Slumm Street itself. The nearer they approached to their home, the firmer became Mrs Stubble's conviction that they had not chosen the most alluring part of the city for their residence; however, she said nothing on the subject, as the house belonged to Benjamin's father: besides, Benjamin himself was born in it.

After the inside passengers had alighted at their front door, to their great surprise, they saw Bob get off the box, and open the side gates, when Ben drove the carriage into the back-yard, and in a few minutes more the horses were in the stable. While Joe was speculating upon the reason for that unlooked-for movement, Ben re-entered the house, and in the most delicate manner imaginable, he begged Mrs Stubble to favour him by accepting of the said carriage and pair as a trifling mark of his esteem, veneration, and affection. Such lordly liberality could not but affect the whole family more or less; and some time elapsed before either of the ladies could verbally express their thanks. I shall not stay to describe the exciting scene which ensued, or to explain how modestly Ben combated all the half-uttered objections which were urged against so severely taxing his generosity. He declined to stay to tea, for the overflowing gratitude of the ladies was almost too much for his nerves without tea, and Mr Stubble was apparently struck dumb by excessive feeling; so Ben departed, and the family forthwith went into an unrestrained discussion on the subject of Ben's most magnificent present.

“It be's very good-natured of him, I don't deny that; still I wish he hadn't bought a carriage for us at all,” said Joe. “Us can do very well without one, for we've got good legs all of us. Us must keep a groom now; and the feed, and other things, will cost a pretty lot of money.”

“You have not considered what we shall save in shoe leather, father,” said Peggy with a tender smile.

“Ees, I have, though, missis; and what it will cost for

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horse-shoes and harness leather too. Well, never mind, it's no good fretting; when the money is all spent, us must use our legs again. But I hope us won't get gouty with high living, and proud and lazy into the bargain.”

“What do you say about getting our old stockman, Jack Slash, down, father? He would make a first-rate coachman,” said Bob.

“O yes! I always liked Jack,” said Maggie, eagerly. “He is pretty tall, and if he would keep his hair cut a little shorter, he would look very respectable in a nice modest livery.”

“A modest what?” shouted Joe with unusual vehemence. “Livery did 'ee say? Jack Slash in a mulberry coat and blue breeches, driving old Joe Stubble about the streets in a grand shandradan! Is that what 'ee want to see? No, no; dash my wig, if I'll stand that, anyhow! I bean't stark mad yet.”

“Yaw, yaw, yaw!” guffed Biddy Flynn, who had just come in with the tea-tray; whereupon Mrs Stubble, with stately rage, which made all her words hiss, bade her rebellious maid take warning “to leave the house that very day week.”

“Shure, I didn't mane to grin at all, missis; but I cudn't help it, 'cept I'd dropped all the tay-cups, and choked meself too, wid respect ta yez. But, dear knows, I don't want to shtop in yer house—not I; so I'll be aff nixt Friday, an' it's glad enough I'll be to do it too.”

“Let me not hear another word of your impudence. Go into your kitchen this instant moment, or I'll send you out of the house this very minute,” said Mrs Stubble, who then sat down in a corner to cool.

“I'm very sorry I spoke, papa; but pray don't vex yourself. I was half joking about the livery, you know,” said Maggie, humbly approaching her angry sire.

“What is the good of kicking up this dust?” urged Bob, standing up with all the grace of a police-office pleader. “Here is a precious row in the house in a minute, and all about nothing at all. I'm blessed if I don't put the horses in the britzka, and drive it back to Goldstone's lodgings, and tell him to keep his coach, for it set us all quarrelling directly after he left the house.”

Bob's address was so very sudden, and withal so forcible, that it was as effective as the smart rap of the master's cane on his desk in a large schoolful of rackety boys. Even

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Joe himself would not have sanctioned such an extreme measure as Bob threatened, for that would be to offer a gratuitous insult to a generous man; so he tamely remarked, “I bean't going to say another word,” and pulled out his pipe. Bob accepted that as an absolute submission, and then directed his eloquence to his mother. The result was, that she gradually softened, until she went into the kitchen and rescinded her wrathful warning to Biddy; and peace was presently restored to the ruffled household. After tea, Bob went out to order some hay and corn, and to buy a curry-comb and a dandy-brush.